Environmentalists raise concern over the imminent devastation of forest coverage and the resultant loss of biodiversity due to the mining of quartz deposit in the Kotikambokka Kosgahawela Forest Reserve in Wellawaya, and also about the road being laid through the forest to access the quartz deposit.
They blame the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) for approving a private company allied to the bureau to engage in the task.
Mahaweli Development and Environment Ministry Secretary Udaya R. Seneviratne, in a letter sent on March 10, 2016, had instructed the GSMB Chairman to make necessary arrangements to commence the mining of the quartz deposit and construction of the access road as this decision was taken by the President at the progress review meeting of the Environment Ministry on March 31 this year.
Environmentalists say this project to exploit quartz deposit in an environmentally-significant sensitive forest area of Kotikambokka in Ethiliwewa Beat of the forest reserve, which comes under the purview of the Forest Conservation Department, would lead to many environmental and social problems. This is a natural forest area and habitat for biodiversity system consisting of endemic species.
The Kotikambokka Forest Reserve is an inter-zone forest, mixed with Savannah grass land. Environmentalists claim Gammalu, Aralu, Bulu Welan, Milla and Dada Kirala are prominent among the flora of this forest range and various kinds of orchids unique to the country are found here.
Damages undergone by this environmental system since 2010, due to the activities of individuals and companies on political influences, would be aggravated by the clearing of sensitive wet layers of the forest to build the road to access the quartz deposit.
Meanwhile, Raja Vidana Pathirana of the Monaragala Nature Foundation said for the eight-metre wide 400-metre road, a strip of forest was to be cleared along the north boundary of the Alikota Ara Reservoir under the Uma Oya multi-purpose scheme, of which construction was now in progress.
He said some 250-300 well-grown and valuable trees were to be cut and uprooted in a bid to clear the path, disturbing the existence of biodiversity in and around.
Further, he said the need for the access road had arisen due to the construction of the new Alikota Ara Reservoir of the Uma Oya Project.
However, Uma Oya Project Manager Engineer P.M.M.P.S.D. Herath had sent a letter to the Monaragala District Forest Officer on August 13, explaining the probable adverse effects on the new reservoir in clearing the forest cover on site of quartz deposit and the Kosgahawela Forest Reserve. However, Technological Services Private Limited (TSC) of the GSMB has sought approval for a land area of two hectares for mining of the quartz deposit in the Kosgahawela Forest Reserve.
According to the No. 722/22 Gazette notification issued on June 24, 1993, under the No. 47 of 1980 Environment Act, ministry approval has to be obtained after an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). However, the TSC seems to begin the mining activities without an EIA, taking the advantage of political influence as revealed.
However, severe damage to the dam of the reservoir is inevitable when the blasting is done in mining the quartz deposit. The Kosgahawela Forest Reserve where this quartz deposit is located and the reservoir are fed with water from the Alikota Ara canal.
Clearing of forest cover in these areas would cause soil erosion, and the deposit of sediments in the reservoir would dwindle the water storage capacity of the reservoir in a short span of time.
However, when we contacted Monaragala District D.P. Prasad and asked about the mining of the quartz deposit, he affirmed beginning of the proposed project. He said the forest area had already experienced a considerable environmental damage due to several improper mining done on several occasions in the past.
He pointed out that inappropriate mining would cause severe damage to this sensitive environment system, and that it was advisable to begin the mining operation after studying an environmental impact report. However, he declined to explain further. Meanwhile, the environmentalists said those interested in achieving economic gains in a short period of time had misled the President who was also the Environment Minister, thus ignoring the irreparable loss to the entire country in the long run.
They also stressed the importance of the President’s attention with regards to these sensitive environmental concerns.